Cookies? Where we’re going, we don’t need cookies…

The FTC is cracking down on tracking, AdBlocker usage is higher than ever, and cookie tracking drop-off continues to grow across the board.  Is affiliate marketing doomed?  Is the end in sight?

Of course not!

First off, most of this war on tracking has to do with personally identifiable information.  I realize there is still some debate surrounding the definition of “personally identifiable,” but in the most basic sense, affiliate marketing is focused on tracking referrals for real actions on an advertiser’s site.  In order to do this, it is not required that we know personal information about the user like who they’re in a relationship with, who they work for, or what they had for dinner last night (like you would find on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn).

Why is the FTC Cracking Down on Cookies?

Well, there could be a number of reasons why the FTC cares about shutting down cookie tracking.  The first one is probably because it is the easiest to shut down.  Browsers have long had the functionality for individuals to control the cookies they accept, and all of the new browsers are already coming up with simple ways of blocking cookies (see earlier post: Browser War on Tracking).

I also recognized that many malicious identity and credit card thieves, information sellers, etc. utilize cookie tracking because it is the quickest, simplest solution.  Even if the accuracy is lower, they can still get a ton of data.  Protecting users from malicious cookies might actually be a great way to eliminate a large portion of fraud out there.  However, I would like to suggest that these types of fraudsters will always find a way.

Another reason for the cookie crack down might point to some larger forces at play.  Ever think about who would have access to the largest amounts of user data if cookie tracking was obsolete?  My guess is that there is some pretty seriously lobbying going on to control cookie-based tracking, because let’s face it, nothing in government ever gets done regarding technology if there’s not an influential business behind it.  Even the Obama administration is calling for a “privacy bill of rights,” which sounds very glorious to the consumer with little knowledge.  Though the specifics have not been disclosed, I can bet this has more to do with a few big spenders that are a little annoyed by Facebook, Gmail and others who are displaying ads based on “personal” user data.

Letting Go of Cookie-Based Tracking

Though it has been an industry standard since the beginning, affiliate marketers, networks, and advertisers with their own programs are going to have to start moving away from cookie-based tracking methods.  As time goes on, they will just continue to be less and less accurate, and it is certainly time to accept that fact.

A nice transition is to use both cookies and server response tracking in one pixel.  I posted a guide to adding cookie-less tracking to your pixel using transaction ids which walks you through all the basic steps.  It really isn’t that complicated, but you’ll need someone that has a little experience with development.

Basic Server Response is just the Beginning

If you are at all concerned about the accuracy of your cookie-based tracking, why are you still using it?  I know.  Because it’s easier to implement.  Well, it’s time to start putting in a little extra effort to start basing your conversions on actual server calls (if you’re unsure of the differences, see post on cookie-less tracking).  HasOffers and other tracking platforms have been providing Server Response (cookie-less) tracking for a very long time even though many business have just accepted the margin of error with cookie tracking.  I mean, it works out okay for the advertiser right? Free Conversions! …. no

The biggest selling point of affiliate marketing is that we are based on performance, and I have to believe that the more transparent we can be on the actual numbers behind traffic performance, the more advertising dollars will start flowing into our industry.

Even if the majority of networks and advertisers make the shift, this is just the beginning of the future of conversion tracking.  Over the past ten years, as these tracking systems have remained the industry standards, a great deal of new tracking technology has been developed.  In fact, there are at least a dozen ways to track visitors that I would bet you’ve never heard of.  I’m not going to give them all away in the post, but I can promise you they are something to start getting excited about.

What HasOffers is Doing

We continue to make it easier for our clients to implement cookie-less tracking, and we already have plans to improve this functionality, ensuring even greater accuracy and simple implementation.

In addition, engineers are hard at work in our lab developing new tracking methodology. Many of our customers were excited to hear about our ability to track mobile application installs for tracking through black holes like the iTunes and Android App Stores.  Some of our largest customers have already experienced incredible success with this as we continue to test it for accuracy.  Look for a post with more details  to come out soon :)

These are just a few of the new tracking methods we have released recently, but they barely scratch the surface of what is to come.  Our engineers are extremely passionate about creating the best advertising tracking available, and we have several new innovations to come.  Rather than depending on decade old technology, we believe it is time to remember the kind of innovators we are as affiliate marketers and shift our focus back to the future.

I couldn’t help but drop a link to that epic scene in Back to the Future so you can all get inspired as I was by Doc’s most memorable line

Peter Hamilton

Peter is CEO and Partner at TUNE. Developing his early skills as an online marketer in SEO, PPC, and Media Buying, he met the twin co-founders of TUNE in 2009 and had the opportunity to join prior to day one, leading product marketing for the company's first launch. He continues to contribute to media, white papers, analysts, and industry blogs with the goals of educating mobile marketers and making the digital marketing ecosystem more connected. Follow @peterhamilton